RIP, Honda Insight, America's First Hybrid

February 26, 2014

Auto models come and go. Those that shuffle off this mortal coil are sometimes eulogized (e.g. the Mazda RX-7, the Pontiac Firebird, the Volkswagen Karmann Ghia), and sometimes we can't shovel dirt on them fast enough (e.g. the Dodge Neon, the Pontiac Aztek, and with luck, the Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet).

Today, we have the solemn duty of announcing the death of a car that falls smack in the middle of those two extremes: America's first hybrid vehicle, the Honda Insight.

According to Bloomberg, Honda dealers were told of the Insight's demise back in November, and they were asked to stop taking orders for it. Apparently, that didn't cause much of an uproar, because it's now February, and we're just hearing about it.


The Insight was introduced in the U.S. in 1999, a full seven months before the 800-pound hybrid gorilla known as the Toyota Prius arrived on these shores. As a vehicle, the Insight performed just fine, but on the sales floor, it was completely outmaneuvered by the Prius. 

What led to its demise? It's hard to pinpoint one single cause. 

As our colleagues at Green Car Reports point out, the Insight didn't capitalize on its major strength, fuel economy: "Its 42 mpg combined rating is little more than that of some non-hybrids now on sale...."  That list of non-hybrids includes many from Honda itself, like the Honda fit. The current 2014 Insight model hit some bumps on the performance front, too.

And in fairness, Toyota seems to have pumped much more time, energy, and money into the Prius than Honda spent on the Insight. Toyota had several high-profile ad campaigns for the Prius, but it's hard to recall any for the Insight. Now, the Prius brand has been expanded to include models for suburban families, urban singles, and those in-between. Honda, on the other hand, has...the Insight. 

But most of all, the Insight failed to inspire passion. The Pontiac Aztek was terrible, but at least it got people talking. The Honda Insight was the definition of milquetoast, and it left consumers feeling "meh". It stood out like an albino cow eating a vanilla snowball during a blizzard.

As of January, Toyota had sold 3.19 million Prius vehicles worldwide during the previous 12 months. In calendar year 2013, Honda sold just 280,629 Insights, and only 4,802 were bought in the U.SIt's worth noting that the only vehicle in Honda's U.S. lineup that sold worse than the Insight was the CR-Z hybrid -- which is, sadly, based on the Insight platform. (Translation: don't change out of your mourning clothes just yet.)

The Insight's gone on hiatus before (it was shelved for a few years, beginning in 2006), so there's a chance that the model could eventually be revived. But if Honda does so, we hope it spends a little more time at the drawing board to give the Insight the "oomph" it needs to succeed. 


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